Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: The Monster's Corner edited by Christopher Golden

With most tales of horror, the reader only gets one side of the story -- and it isn't the monster's. Jonathan Harker relating the strange events of his time spent at Count Dracula's castle in the Carpathian Mountains; or various accounts of survival against the zombie hordes in World War Z; Or Ripley outwitting the Geiger-ish alien. All those stories feature an outsider's view, examining the survivor's or victim's emotion and actions while completely disregarding those of the monster.

The Monster's Corner, a new anthology from St. Martin's Griffin, aims to give the monsters a chance to tell their side of things.

Some of the monsters are familiar, such as Frankenstein's Monster as presented by Kevin J. Anderson in his story Torn Stitches, Shattered Glass or tackle the creatures of myth such as Sara Pinborough's take on Medusa in The Screaming Room or Dana Stabenow's Siren Song. Others reveal the inner workings of more modern creatures, like David Moody's Big Man, a re-imagining of a 1950s classic sci-fi film, or create new monsters as Tananarive Due does with The Lake.

The most successful of the tales shed some light on a different side of these monsters than what we're used to. In Torn Stitches, Shattered Glass, Frankenstein's creation is living in a Jewish ghetto in 1930s Ingolstadt just as the Nazi's begin their reign, and his outrage at the pointless violence threatens everyone around him. Another example is Succumb from John McIlveen, a story of a succubus who knows that the true monsters aren't always who we believe them to be. These and many of the stories force the reader to rethink the idea of what makes a monster, and many times, I found myself rooting for the what should have been the bad guy. (Or girl...or thing.)

Not all the stories work, but I think you have to expect that with anthologies. The Awkward Age spins a decent tale, yet I had problems with the narrator jumping back and forth between "I" and "Mason" when describing herself. I found it annoying and wanted to skip to the next story.

The Monster's Corner is definitely worth your time, especially if you want a different perspective on what makes a monster. Some great stories by great authors. And if you don't get a copy, you're missing out on one of the best stories I've read in recent years, Jesus and Satan Go Jogging in the Desert by Simon R. Green. The title of that story alone should be temptation enough for this anthology!!

The Monster's Corner
edited by Christopher Golden
St.Martin's Griffin
ISBN: 978-0-312-64613-4
trade paperback, 388 pgs.


received book from publisher

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book Review: Now and Forever by Ray Bradbury

The first book I read from author Ray Bradbury was The Martian Chronicles. I remember my interest after watching the mini-series and checked out a copy from my school's library. What struck me most was how it was both a novel and a collection of short stories, dealing with the topic of expansion and colonization. (And since this was during school, my mind somehow connected the fictitious events in the book with similar events involving colonization of foreign territories -- think England colonizing the New World, and so on.) Since then, I've read as much of Bradbury's work as I could find and is one of the main reasons why I so love the short story form of writing.

In 2007, his novella collection Now and Forever was released, offering two new tales from the master writer. The first story -- Somewhere A Band Is Playing -- revolves around James Cardiff, an adventurer, if you will, who while sleeping one night hears a strange music when his eyes close. The words of a poem fitting the music etch themselves in his inner vision, and he's drawn to the middle of nowhere in Arizona. There he discovers the town of Summerton, population uncertain, but the residents harbor a great secret, one to which forces James to make a life-changing decision.

The story is an effective fantasy spin on what it means to be a writer. Not simply the process of writing, but how it affects the writer and what writing means to the writer.

The second novella -- Leviathan '99 -- is Bradbury's re-telling of the classic Melville novel Moby Dick. He moves the action from the seas of Earth to the more vast sea of stars and space. Ishmael spins his tale of a ship's captain, determined to find the bright white comet that blinded him, no matter the cost to himself or to his crew.

I can't think of a better writer to transpose the tale into the expanse of outer space. That sense of wonder and adventure remains intact while still managing to have the spirit of Melville attached to it with how the characters speak and act. (It doesn't hurt that he co-wrote the script for the 1958 film version or re-counted his time spent with the writing in his novel Green Shadows, White Whale.)

Now and Forever offers two prime examples of why Bradbury is considered one of the foremost writers. If you've yet to read anything from him, I suggest checking out this one.

Now and Forever
by Ray Bradbury
HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0-0-113157-8
massmarket paperback, 247 pgs.


purchased book

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Birthday Dinner

I know this is early, but I'm excited about where we're going for dinner on the big 4-1: Yep, I made reservations at 'Ama 'Ama, a restaurant at Disney's new Aulani Resort. Even when I go to Hawai'i, I can't get away from the Mouse.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Neglectful

I should be in a room, standing in a corner with my face directed to the walls, feeling ashamed because of how neglectful I've been. I haven't blogged since Friday, nor have I read any other blogs. So much is going on with work -- testing the new release version of our database, training team members, participating in conference call after conference call. I was also invited by an author to submit a story for an anthology, and while the story is picture perfect in my head, trying to transfer it to paper seems like a herculean effort. St. Martin's Press forwarded a copy of a new monster anthology for me to read/review, so I'm working my way through those 300+ pages. And, Caesar and I have been making preparations for our trip to O'ahu for my birthday in a less than two weeks.

So I'm just plum tuckered out. But I promise once the story's done, when we're back from Hawai'i, when the trainings are completed, I will blog with a big more regularity. Now if you will excuse me, I need to crawl under my desk for a nap.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Breakdown

I met Clark at Disneyland after work yesterday, and with only two hours left until the park closed, we decided to try our luck with Soarin' Over California. Perhaps 15 people waited in line so we figured it would be a short wait, allowing us plenty of time to get in a few other attractions.

We filed into the flight room, sat in the proper row, clicked the seatbelts in place. The top of the car slowly dropped into place. The light dimmed, and the cars lifted into the air.

Only to stop abruptly less than a foot off the ground, then fall back to the ground. The ride operators either frantically ran about the room checking on the passengers, or spoke loudly over the phone with maintenance. 10 minutes later, they had us file out the Exit doors and into the adjoining room, fitting us nicely in between those who had taken the flight and those awaiting the next one.

Surprisingly, an attraction breaking down doesn't happen as often as you'd think. A few years ago, I was spinning my car on Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin when it stopped. The animatronics and music didn't, though, which created a surreal experience watching the mechanized routine looping over and over right before my eyes. The lights came up a few minutes later, and an operator walked into the room and out the next door. He returned moments later with the four people from the car in the next room, released the lock on my car, and we all followed him through the attraction, walking through each of the rooms, and getting up close and personal with the animatronics. Being an annual passholder, I admit this was a bit thrilling, something that regular guests didn't get to do.

Of course, I gloated about it to Clark. And when it happened the next time, on the Haunted Mansion, and we were allowed behind the scenes to exit through a crypt door in the mausoleum, Clark was even more jealous. So last night, he finally experienced a ride breakdown.

I think he can check that off his bucket list.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Book Review: Blockade Billy by Stephen King

Sometimes books have a little something extra included, such as experts from an upcoming novel or pages of advertisements for other books in an author's catalog. Blockade Billy, however, offers a complete second complete story for King fans. Of which I am one.

Blockade Billy

In doing some research on baseball, Mr. King interviews George Grantham, former third base coach for the Titans. Hunkered down in Grantham's room at a retirement home, King asks him about one of the greatest baseball player's that no one's heard of -- William "Blockade Billy" Blakely. Brought up from the Davenport Cornhuskers when the Titan's regular catcher was relegated to the disabled list, Blakely proves to be an almost impenetrable wall at the plate, blocking runner after running -- sometimes with bloody results. The fans love it, as does pitcher Danny Dusen who is on his way to the record books if he wins a few more games. But something in Blakely's past forces a drastic change that ultimately wipes any record of Blakely from the annals of baseball.

Morality

Chad, a soon-to-be out of work substitute teacher, comes home to find his wife Nora home early from work, sitting on the fire escape with a cigarette in one hand and a folder with their financial history in the other. He knows something important must have happened, but he's not prepared when Nora tells him about her employer's offer. She works as a home nurse for the Reverend George Winston. He's never sinned -- never been allowed to -- and now with his days slowly winding down, he wants to experience sin. Though his body won't allow him to try anything sinful, he proposes an idea to Nora that if she were to go through with it, would net her and Chad $100,000. All she needs to do is to commit this one sin, to video tape it, and to give him the tape, and the money was hers. No strings attached. But she wants to discuss the deed with Chad. It's good money for such a small thing, but the consequences could bring about the disintegration of their relationship.

Reading Blockade Billy felt like reliving the grand history of baseball, getting caught up with the ebbs and flows of the team as they work their way through the season. And the unexpected twist with Blakely made it all the more enjoyable. Morality felt a bit heavier and its conclusion somewhat unsatisfying. I kept expecting something more to happen, but it never did.

Both stories, in their own way, deal with a life-changing decision and its consequences. One deals with discovering the truth about another person while the other questions making the call between right and wrong. And no matter the decision, the aftermath may not be the most pleasant.

Blockade Billy provides the perfect King fix if you're not ready to tackle one of his larger works. Then again, I've always been a fan of his short fiction, and both stories fit well with the tales in Graveyard Shift, Different Seasons and his many other collections.

Blockade Billy
by Stephen King
Scribner
ISBN: 978-1-4516-0821-2
hardcover, 132 pgs.


purchased book

Monday, September 12, 2011

Moon Mission

Yesterday, I caught an early bird screening of Apollo 18 over at The Pike. I know, I should have been home watching the myriad TV channels replaying the events from 9/11. But I remember what it was like the first time watching those clips, in real time instead of 10 years later. That morning, I was just about to step out the door, headed for the office, when our neighbor hurried over and asked if we were watching the news. I clicked on the TV, and we sat for almost an hour glued to the tragedy. On my drive to work, I thought about the planes and the constantly replaying footage of them crashing into the towers and was scared. I worked a block from the John Wayne Airport, and you can imagine what was going through my head: was that airport a target? Were my co-workers and myself -- not to mention everyone else in the two-story office building -- in danger? Should I turn around and go home? But I kept on toward the office. Once there, we fielded phone calls from our employees, asking if they needed to go to work today, refusing to go to work, calling us crazy for working as close to the airport as we were. Some folks wanted to talk about what happened, or quietly cried, glad that someone was around to talk to or to just listen.

Yesterday, I wanted to be far away from the images on the TV. And yes, I did choose a horror film. I can hear a few people groaning at that, but with a horror film, I'm the one in control. I can close my eyes or stand up and walk out of the theater at any time, leaving the monsters, the terror behind -- even if it is imagined terror.

As for the movie? It did the job. Good scares, imaginative monsters, good story and acting. Claustrophobic, quiet, and creepy. And I enjoyed how they made the film look as if it belonged to the early 1970s, with scratches, noise, blemishes. A nice little horror/sci-fi film.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Review: Autumn: Purification by David Moody

I've finished a surprising amount of books over the past two weeks, meaning I must catch up with my reviews. This Is the End: done. Outer Dark: done. So three more to go ....

Emma, Michael and a few others who survived the worldwide plague that spread like wildfire, barely make it inside an underground bunker before hoards of the recently re-animated could rip them to pieces. Now, they're trapped with a group of military personnel who can't comprehend what's waiting on the other side of the bunker doors. With supplies and tempers running short, and the air vents and other exits points steadily becoming blocked, the remaining soldiers decide -- disregarding the pleas of the survivors -- to fight the massing corpses. At first, the soldiers begin to make headway, but just as quickly, the tide turns. What once provided hope as an safe zone becomes a death trap, leaving the survivors with only one option if they want to live.

Autumn: Purification is the third book in author David Moody's Autumn series and provides a great continuation of the story of Emma and Michael and the other survivors. I like that Moody's "zombies" aren't traditional -- they aren't out to eat brains or to spread the infection. Instead, it's almost as if the re-animation has made them crazy and violent. Yet, as the weeks pass, the survivors begin to notice subtle changes in how the re-animated corpses respond to sound or to the presence of survivors. That quiet "becoming aware" makes these zombies even more dangerous -- a zombie learning how to think!

I also enjoyed following the survivors, seeing how they interact and how the fact they are still among the living has affected each of them. That little glimpse into the psychology of survival, how a life-altering affects the different ways people handle the aftermath. As the character Michael mentions at one point in the story, he doesn't know the names of everyone in the small group of survivors, only those that have taken an active part in doing something to help. The others who have shied away, determined to recede into their shells rather than face the changed world, become non-entities, almost as sad as the re-animated corpses.

The story is fast-paced and completely engrossing, and I found myself staying up much later than I should just to finish one more chapter. And being the third in the series, the story presents enough background information that it isn't necessary to have read the first two books -- but I highly recommend doing so.

Autumn: Purification
by David Moody
Thomas Dunne Books
ISBN: 978-0-312-56999-0
trade paperback, 329 pgs.


book received from publisher

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Weird Weather

It's simply too hot to blog here on the Left Coast. But I do hope my blogger friends back East, dealing with the torrential rains and flooding, are doing okay. Keep yourself safe and as dry as possible.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Book Review: Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy

In a rundown cabin, perhaps in the forest or in the mountains, Rinthy Holme gives birth to a boy. Her brother Culla should be happy, but instead tells Rinthy that the child died and takes him -- his own son -- into the forest and leaves him on a tree stump. When Rinthy learns of Culla's deceit, she packs up her few belongings and runs away, determined to find her son and the tinker who she believes took him. Culla returns home from a day out hunting for work and finds Rinthy gone. So he sets out on his own quest to find her. As each sibling travels through the many counties, a dark trio of men wreaks havoc on the same countryside, heading toward a confrontation with the brother and sister.

As with all McCarthy's books that I've read so far, he has an interesting way with language that makes a character's voice seem real and down to earth, giving them a time and a place, such as with the dialect that the Holmes' and the men and the people they encounter. And you believe those characters. Couple that with his descriptions of the countryside or towns or the people themselves, and you can clearly imagine the harsh landscape, with rutted roads and dilapidated buildings.

However, I only somewhat enjoyed the story of Culla and Rinthy traveling their different ways through the towns. While it was clear that Rinthy searched for her son and the tinker, Culla's journey seems to be consumed with looking for work rather than finding his sister, though ostensibly that's why he's roaming the countryside. As for the dark trio, I wasn't quite sure of their role in this, either. Why were they terrorizing the countryside? Why did they seem to know so much about Culla and what he did to Rinthy? I felt as though some piece of the puzzle were missing that would have made their actions more logical to the story.

Outer Dark
by Cormac McCarthy
Vintage International
ISBN: 978-0-679-72873-3
trade paperback, 242 pgs.


purchased book

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Wheels on the Bike Go Round and Round

Long Beach tends to be one of the friendliest cities in LA County when it comes to bicycling. The city recently upgraded many of the street to accommodate larger bike lanes -- with their own traffic lights; created "sharrows" in which a car is to share the same entire lane with a bicycle, rather than pushing the bike into a small lane near the curb; some districts within the city are considered "Bike Friendly Business Districts", catering to the two wheelers with plenty of stations to park bikes and even being provided with cargo bikes (from the city) to help with local deliveries.

I applaud those efforts. But when something happens -- when a bicyclist feels that he or she is above the cars and pedestrians around him or her -- that's when I feel that those riders need to be taken down a notch.

Take a few hours ago, for example.

We reached an intersection with a 4-way stop and plenty of Stop signs to make sure everyone realized it. Each direction had at least one car waiting to either make a turn or to continue forward. I saw her pedaling away, heading toward us on the driver's side, ear buds firmly planted in her ears. She didn't check to see if any cars were in the intersection already. She didn't slow down. She didn't stop.

She plowed right through the intersection, causing a few cars to slam on their brakes. We honked at her, and she reciprocated with her middle finger.

Unfortunately, this happens frequently in and around Long Beach. They ignore stop signs and traffic lights. They don't pay much attention to their surroundings. They seem to expect everyone else, though, to let them pass, make concessions when traveling down the street -- even when they swing far out into the lane for no reason.

I remember way back in elementary school, a policeman stopped by to give the entire school lessons on the proper way to ride a bike, to be aware of your surroundings, and most important, to pay attention to traffic signs. Bicycles were just like cars; the rules of the road applied to them, as well. And guess what? I checked the CA DMV's website and found and entire section on bicycling. The first rule listed for bicycles? Must obey all traffic signals and stop signs. Which I take to mean that the bicyclist can receive a ticket for running a Stop sign. And, sad to say, I think quite a few of them deserve tickets or to have their bikes confiscated.

I know this doesn't describe all bicyclists. But the few moronic riders out there -- such as Miss Ear Buds -- tend to leave a bad taste in the mouth regarding all bicyclists.